Thursday, September 22, 2011

Washington Capitals 2011-2012 Previews: Marcus Johansson

Marcus Johansson

Theme: “The spectacles of experience; through them you will see clearly a second time.”
-- Henrik Ibsen

If one was to tell you that among all the Caps in last season’s playoffs, that at 5-on-5 no Cap posted points with greater frequency than Marcus Johansson, would you believe it? Well, according to the folks at, Johansson’s 2.96 points/60 minutes at 5-on-5 led the team. You might think it more a commentary on the Caps’ playoff performance as a whole, but Johansson finished 15th among all players in the playoffs in that statistic.

It is an isolated number, but the point is that Johansson didn’t fade in his rookie year. In the 2010-2011 regular season Johansson missed his last game in the final game of the 2010 portion of the campaign. In the 43 games that followed to finish the year he was 10-11-21, plus-6. As it was, the 13-14-27 scoring line he posted in 69 games for the season represented the third highest point total among non-North American rookies in 2010-2011 (behind Michael Grabner and Magnus Paajarvi).

And Johansson did it with versatility, if the character of his ice time is an indicator. At 5-on-5 last season he spent 183 minutes playing alongside Alex Ovechkin. He also spent 109 minutes skating next to Matt Hendricks. He spent at least 100 minutes at 5-on-5 with seven different forwards. In terms of the nature of the lines on which he was playing, his roles seemed to be all over the place. But such is life, sometimes, for a rookie.

But a rookie he was, too. Among Caps forwards playing in at least 50 games, Johansson had the worst “relative Corsi” figure (Corsi on ice to Corsi off ice), suggesting that the Caps lacked a certain amount of offensive pressure when he was on the ice (numbers from This is buttressed by similar numbers from in which a look at Johansson’s Corsi numbers when paired with teammates reflect that in almost every case, the forward with whom he is paired had a higher Corsi figure when not paired with Johansson (the exceptions among forwards were Matt Hendricks, Boyd Gordon, and David Steckel).

But we are still left with that finish over the last 43 games in the 2011 portion of the season in which he had a scoring pace of 19-21-40, plus-11 per 82 games. And that is what might be tantalizing about Johansson. Is it an indicator that he could realize a big jump in Year 2 of his career?

Fearless’ Take: Johansson finished tied for fifth among rookie centers in total scoring last season, according to Three of the four players ahead of him played more minutes with higher end offensive players. For example, Derek Stepan played more than 300 minutes at 5-on-5 with Marian Gaborik with the Rangers, Brad Marchand played more than 400 minutes with Patrice Bergeron in Boston, Logan Couture more than 350 minutes with Dany Heatley in San Jose (the exception was Jeff Skinner, who played most of his 5-on-5 minutes with Chad LaRose and Erik Cole). Johansson played fewer than 200 5-on-5 minutes with both Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. It would seem there is room for growth with Johansson in terms of his offensive production.

Cheerless’ Take: No Cap forward playing in at least 50 games had a higher percentage of offensive zone starts at 5-on-5 (58.9 percent) than did Johansson. However, he had the third worst percentage among Caps forwards of offensive zone finishes (46.3 percent offensive zone finishes). His faceoff winning percentage in the offensive zone (42.4 percent) would have been bad, but it was better than his faceoff percentage overall (40.5 percent).

The Big Question… Will Johansson experience the dreaded “Sophomore Slump” in Year 2?

Marcus Johansson finished tied for 12th in scoring among rookie forwards last season. Of the top dozen rookie scorers in the 2009-2010 season, five improved by at least ten points in their second season, three saw their production decline by at least ten points (of that group, T.J. Galiardi missed 47 games to a wrist injury and Tim Kennedy spent 67 games in the AHL). On average those dozen players’ production was virtually unchanged in their second year (no change in goals as a group, up one in assists). What that means for Johansson is hard to say, except that if he centers the second line regularly he should get more chances to improve his point totals in Year 2.

In the end…

Johansson is one of those prospects that has progressed gradually but consistently through the ranks. Three seasons in under-18 leagues in Sweden, two in the SEL. A couple of world junior championship tournaments (the second of which he served as captain for Team Sweden), then on to Washington to start his NHL career. With that kind of preparation there is little reason to think Johansson is going to experience a step backward in his second season. In fact, his being paired with Alex Ovechkin on the top line regularly thus far in training camp suggests the possibility of a bigger role for him. Compared to other rookies last season, for example, Johansson had little power play time (he finished 42nd among rookie forwards in average power play ice time per game; even Mathieu Perreault averaged more among Caps rookies).

But no path, it seems, is uninterrupted progress. Johansson had a nice finish to the regular season, and he was tied for third in total scoring for the Caps in the playoffs with Alexander Semin. But no Cap was on the ice for more goals against than Johansson in the post season, either. He was on the ice for 11 of the 24 goals scored against the Caps last spring, including nine of the 16 the Tampa Bay Lightning scored against the Caps in their second round sweep. Johansson has a promising upside, but there is work to be done in the little things. And that is what this season is going to be about as much as his scoring.

Projection: 77 games, 16-23-39, +11

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puska)

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